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The British Monopoly On The Surat Trade To The Middle East And The Indian Ship-Owning Merchants’ Struggle Against It: 1759–1800*

  • MICHELGUGLIELMO TORRI (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

Between 1759 and 1800, Surat, still an important trade and financial centre, was under the ultimate rule of the East India Company. Although the EIC justified this as necessary for protecting Surat's inhabitants and, most particularly, the local merchant class, the Company failed not only to protect the Surat merchants against the depredations of Great Britain's European enemies, but also to safeguard the merchants from extortion by local EIC top officials. In fact, the latter imposed what was essentially a protection racket on trade from Surat to the Middle East. This article focuses on the Surat merchants’ long-drawn out and ultimately unsuccessful struggle against what, in the official documents, was dubbed the [British] monopoly of the trade to the “Gulphs”. The episode demonstrates two theses: the first is that the interests of the Surat merchants held little importance to the EIC or its officials, and the second is that, during the period under examination, no mutually beneficial partnership tied the British to the Surat merchants — rather, the relationship was one of naked exploitation by the former of the latter.

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*

This article is in memory of Thomas O. Eisemon (1944-98), gentleman, scholar, friend, and the last of my intellectual gurus, who, although a specialist in a different field, read and so intelligently criticised my earlier work on Surat.

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1 When part of the Mughal Empire, Surat, was not included in the Gujarat subah because of its importance but directly depended upon the Mughal Emperor. The emperor governed it through two governors, one independent from the other: the governor of the city and the governor of the castle or citadel present inside the city. Following the disintegration of the Mughal empire, in the first half of the 18th century Surat became an independent city state, where all power was in the hand of the city governor, who came to control both the city and the castle, and, as in analogous cases in the remainder of India, assumed the title of Nawab. However, in the late 1740s and early 1750s, during a long civil war, the division of powers between the Nawab and the governor of the castle reasserted itself. In fact, the 1759 British expedition, which established the East India Company as the dominant military and political power in Surat, was waged against the governor of the Castle only, and not the city Nawab. Hence, the Chief of the British Factory in Surat officially assumed the title and the powers of governor of the castle, which traditionally included some undefined supervisory powers over the government of the city. On the British conquest of the Surat castle see Torri Michelguglielmo, ‘Nobles Mughal, Indian Merchants and the Beginning of English Conquest in Western India: The case of Surat, 1756-1759’, in Modern Asian Studies 32, 2, 1998, pp. 257315.

2 In Bengal the Mughal nobility or, rather, one of its representatives, Saiyid Muhammad Reza Khan, still wielded considerable powers up to the early 1770s, formally as Naib (second in command to the Nawab), in reality as the de facto chief administrator of Bengal, directly dependent on the British governor. But Reza Khan's powers, already drastically reduced in 1769, came to their end in 1772. After that date, the dual government still went on existing only on paper, until Lord Cornwallis formally ended it. See Majed Khan Abdul, The Transition in Bengal 1756-1775. A study of Saiyid Muhammad Reza Khan (Cambridge, 1969).

3 As long as the Portuguese, Dutch and French maintained their permanent establishments in Surat, they and their Indian dependents enjoyed the same rights of extraterritoriality as the British residents and British-protected Suratis.

4 On the fact that Surat continued to be a wealthy and populous city, much bigger than Bombay, up to the end of the period under review, see Michelguglielmo Torri, “In the Deep Blue Sea: Surat and its Merchant Class during the Dyarchic Era (1759-1800)”, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, XIX, 3 & 4, 1982, particularly pp. 281-298. The working of the dual government in Surat is explored in Torri Michelguglielmo, “Surat During the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century: What Kind of Social Order?”, Modern Asian Studies, 21, 4, 1987, pp. 679710 . On how the British overlords of the city interacted with the Nawab's administration as far as the taxation of the commercial wealth of Surat was concerned, see Torri Michelguglielmo, “Social Groups and the Redistribution of Commercial Wealth: The Customs Houses of Surat (1759-1800)”, Studies in History, 1, 1, n. s., 1985, pp. 5786 . Much of the primary sources shedding light on the Nawab's administration of the city and the taxes exacted within the city and in the surrounding area still under the Nawab's control were collected and published in 1806, in PR XVII.

5 For an official enunciation of the EIC's intention to act as the “advocate and protector” of the Indian merchants, see the Court of Directors’ commands of 25 April 1760, in PR XVII, p. 72. More generally, for a discussion of this ideology and its (limited) application as far as the Surat merchants were concerned, see Torri, “In the Deep Blue Sea”, pp. 269-270.

6 The idea that the rise of British power in India was initially based on an alliance between the EIC and the Indian merchant class, which was looking for shelter against the whims of the Mughal nobility, was already present in Panikkar's Kavalam M. classical monograph, Asia under Western Dominance, (London, 1954), Part 2, Chapter 1. As far as the case of Surat is concerned, in the 1980s Lakshmi Subramanian theorised the existence of an “Anglo-Bania order”, namely a beneficial partnership between the EIC and the Indian bankers (the latter possibly being the stronger party), which, in her opinion, was the dominant factor in the political and economic set-up on the Western Coast of India in the 18th century. The basis of the “ order Anglo-Baniatheory was set by Subramanian in two articles: “Capital and Crowd in a Declining Asian Port City: The Anglo-Bania Order and the Surat Riots of 1795”, Modem Asian Studies, 19, 2 (1985), and “Banias and the British: The Role of Indigenous Credit in the Process of Imperial Expansion in Western India in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century”, in Modern Asian Studies, 21, 3 (1987).

7 The fact that, during the second half of the 18th century, the EIC increasingly failed to acquire fat dividends is beside the point. Rather, the point is that the pursuit of fat dividends, although increasingly missed because of the cost of wars and the massive embezzlements of the EIC's officials on the ground, did remain the principal aim pursued by the Directors. In turn, wars and embezzlements were a by-product of the uncertain control wielded by the Directors on their subordinates in India, an unpleasant reality which is explored in the present article.

8 According to P. J. Marshall, in 18th century Bengal, “Even the civil servants who led the most sheltered lives, and whose chances of survival seem to have been the highest, were cut down for most of the eighteenth century at a rate comparable to that of subalterns on the Western Front in the First World War or the crews of British bombers in the Second. In the worst decade, 1747 to 1756, 74 per cent of the civil servants posted to Bengal were to die there”. Marshall P. J., East India Fortunes. The British in Bengal in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1976), p. 254 . There is no reason to think that the situation was different in the rest of India. Things started to change only when the Europeans realised the need to adopt some simple health precautions such as boiling water before drinking it and not sleeping in the open after getting drunk. I owe this insight to a conversation with the late Burton Stein, which we had many years ago, when we both were doing research at the India Office.

9 Just as the EIC, in the 18th century, became increasingly unable to reach its institutional target of distributing fat dividends to its stock-holders, its officials on the ground, at least in Western India, became increasingly unable to reach their cherished primary aim to enrich themselves. See Torri Michelguglielmo, “Trapped inside the Colonial Order: The Hindu Bankers of Surat and their Business World during the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century”, Modern Asian Studies, 25, 2, 1991, p. 383 , fn. 50.

10 Which was most of the time, as the Company's employees arriving in India were, as a rule, poor and needed financial support to enter trade, which was generally given by indigenous bankers and/or merchants.

11 Das Gupta Ashin, Indian Merchants in the Age of Partnership , in Das Gupta Uma (ed.), The World of the Indian Ocean Merchant 1500-1800. Collected Essays of Ashin Das Gupta (New Delhi, 2001), p. 123 (originally published in 1984). Emphasis added.

12 On the nature of the British official reports on which both the Directors in the 18th century and historians of today ground their evaluation of the political and economic developments in those areas of India which were under either British control or influence, see Torri Michelguglielmo, “Surat, its hinterland and its trade, c. 1740-1800: The British documents”, Moyen Orient et Océan Indien, 10, 1998, pp. 3556 .

13 Das Gupta Ashin, Indian Merchants and the Decline of Surat c. 1700-1750 (Wiesbaden, 1979), pp. 298299 .

14 Both the Presidencies Governments and the Councils of each of their subordinate Factories produced their own sets of volume-bound records, in two copies in the case of the Presidency records, in three copies in the case of the Factory records. One copy was eventually dispatched to London. See Michelguglielmo Torri, “Surat, its hinterland and its trade, c. 1740-1800”, passim.

15 As far as I know, only two confidential reports have been incorporated in the official documentation. One is the “Information by William Ewer, dated Surat 12 February 1797”, in HMs 438; the other is the “Information respecting Surat communicated by Mr. —— 1775. London, Nov. 28, 1772 (sic)”, in vol. 119 of the FRS collection kept at the India Office Library and Records (a volume that I myself numbered). The existence of these two reports suggests that others might have been sent to individual Directors; as noticed below, the Directors sometimes appeared quite knowledgeable of the minutiae of the daily life in Surat.

16 Of course the EIC was the paramount power in Surat, but most of its inhabitants were considered by the English themselves and by the Indian potentates at large as Mughal subjects. Accordingly, for example, during the period under analysis, the Marathas put the city under blockade on more than one occasion, because of their recurring disputes with the Nawabs on the sharing of the Surat revenues (the Marathas had acquired a legal right to a third of it, but the Nawabs cheated all the time on the sums to be paid). Every time the Marathas blockaded Surat however, there was no direct intervention on the part of its British overlords, who, sometimes but not always, acted as mediators between the Nawab and the Marathas. The English – who were not directly disturbed by those blockades, which were effective only on the land side – considered such disputes as the Nawab's problem alone, in his position of Mughal ruler of the city. Any mediation exercised by the English happened only following requests from the Marathas. This means that – apart from a minority made up of merchants, bankers and indigenous Company's servants, all of them “under British protection”, and, consequently, considered British subjects to all effects – the bulk of the Suratis, up to the year 1800, were considered, at least in India, as Mughal subjects. The point is that the French, each time that they went to war against the English, had no qualms in praying on the Surat shipping, claiming that Surat was an English possession.

17 Particularly famous was the case of a ship belonging to Abdel Kader Chellabi – a merchant who was never under British protection – which carried an enormously rich cargo and was taken by French privateers in November 1759, soon after the establishment of the English hegemony on Surat. On this see Du Perron Anquetil, Discours Préliminaire , Tome 1, Partie 1 of Zend Avesta, Ouvrage de Zoroastre (Paris, N. M. Tilliard, 1771), pp. cccxlvi ff .

18 The British organised regular convoys in the Gujarati coastal waters and, particularly, on the Bombay-Surat route. These convoys seem to have been less an effective defence against local pirates than a pretext in order to extract protection money from the Indian merchants. On this, see the testimony of the Polish scientist, Dr Hove, who visited Surat in 1787 and 1788 and was a direct witness of the behaviour of the British naval officer in charge of the Surat-Bombay convoy (see Torri, “Trapped inside the Colonial Order”, p. 380, fn. 37, for the relevant sources). Apart from that, the British organised a convoy from Surat to the Gulfs only exceptionally, namely twice during the whole period between 1759 and 1800. See below. This is in stark contrast with the attitude of the Dutch. The Dutch, who maintained their own “Factory” in Surat for most of the period under review, organised convoys on behalf of the local Surat merchants under their protection upon request from the latter (see Ahmad Nadri Ghulam, “Commercial World of Mancherji Khurshedji and the Dutch East India Company: A Study of Mutual Relationship”, Modern Asian Studies, 41, 2, 2007, pp. 330, 335). This implies that the Dutch convoy service was effective and did not entail too heavy a cost for the merchants.

19 Surat performed two main economic functions that were quite useful to the Company. One was the fact that Surat and its hinterland was the catchment area of the quite extensive “investment” in piece goods carried out by the Company as a trading institution. In spite of some difficulties particularly in the 1780s, the Surat investment was a quite important business and, in fact, in the closing years of the century, it was on a steep increase. The other useful function, possibly more important than the investment itself, was that Surat was an important financial centre, whose shroffs (indigenous bankers) played a crucial role in discounting the bills of exchange through which Calcutta refinanced the deficits of the Bombay Presidency and, in time of war, bank rolled its armies. On this, the most detailed quantitative analysis is made in Joel Goldberg, Bombay Presidency: Problems of Foreign Policy Administration and the Marathas 1768-1779, a sadly unpublished manuscript written by the author in the early 1980s. Goldberg kindly showed it to me in that same period, while I was in his home city, Montréal, as visiting scholar and member of the Centre for Developing-Area Studies, McGill University.

20 The first to notice this phenomenon and its importance for the history of India was M. Athar Ali. See his “The Passing of Empire: The Mughal Case”, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 9, No. 3 (1975), pp. 385-396. Both Ashin Das Gupta (see his Indian Merchants and the Decline of Surat) and René J. Barendse (see his Arabian Seas, 1700 – 1763, 4 vols., Leiden, 2009) have been influenced by Athar Ali's thesis.

21 Torri, “Trapped inside the Colonial Order”, pp. 367-401.

22 Still in 1751-52, Sidi Massud, a minor political chieftain and a merchant, victoriously challenged the EIC's military might in Surat in what, in the British records, is obliquely referred to as ‘Mr. Lambe's war’. But by the early 1760s, the balance of power had so much changed that, for both the Surat Mughal aristocracy and the local merchants, armed resistance against the EIC was simply out of the question.

23 For an overview of the damage wrought by war (and natural disasters) on Surat and the recovery experienced by the city, see Torri, “In the Deep Blue Sea”, pp. 284-288.

24 This comes out unambiguously from a passage of Ellis's private correspondence with Bourchier, quoted by the former in a dispatch to the Bombay Select Committee. In it, Ellis said that, if the planned expedition against Surat was successful, “in that case [I] think not only the [Company's ship] Latham [bound to the Red Sea] will be sure of a full freight but that if Your Honour chuses [sic] to send a private ship to each gulph you may depend on cargos for them”. Secret, 15 May 1758: Letter from Mr. Ellis, dated 8 May 1758.

25 FRS, 21, 22, 25, 26 December 1759; Public, 18 February 1761.

26 When and how the monopoly started was a question without an answer already in the 1790s. As stated by Daniel Seton, the last Chief of Surat: “Neither the records of the Presidency nor those of this settlement [Surat] furnish any particulars that point out the origins of the freight ships [the ships dispatched to the Gulfs under the monopoly system]”. FRS 1st July 1796: The Chief's Minute, § 2.

27 The “supracargo” was the officer in charge of the freight. Once a ship was in a port, he took charge as the ship commanding officer.

28 Public, 5 October 1762: Letter from Daniel Draper of 30 September 1762, giving an account of his transactions as Agent of the Boscawen at Judda.

29 The Chellabis are indicated in the sources as Turkish, and this ethnic affiliation has usually been accepted by modern historians such as Ashin Das Gupta (Indian Merchants, p. 241), Barendse Rene J., Arabian Seas, 1700 – 1763, Vol. 1: The Western Indian Ocean in the Eighteenth Century (Leiden, 2009), p. 236 and Michelguglielmo Torri (“In the Deep Blue See”, p. 272). In reality, although “Chellabi” was a Turkish title, the Chellabis could have been Arabs. As remembered by Ashin Das Gupta himself, on the basis of Charles Fawcett (ed.), English Factories in India (New Series), Vol. 3 (1954), p. 311n., the Chellabis could have been Maronite (namely Arab) merchants, originally from Syria (Das Gupta, Indian Merchants, pp. 76-77, fn. 3). The Arab hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that in modern day Iraq, an old Baghadadi family called Chalabi is still flourishing. In fact, one of its members, Ahmad Chalabi, in the first decade of the present century was a well-known and controversial Iraqi politician.

30 On the economic and political role of the Chellabi clan in the first half of the 18th century, a great deal of information is available in Ashin Das Gupta's work. See his Indian merchants, passim, and Uma Das Gupta (ed.), The World of the Indian Ocean Merchant, passim. Some hint about Salah Chellabi's political role in the 1750s is given in Torri, “Mughal Nobles, Indian Merchants and the Beginning of English Conquest in Western India”, pp. 261, 265, 268 (fn. 38), 294, 306, 307 (fn. 189).

31 That the Chellabis had relatives in Iraq is clear from a letter written in 1768 by the Pasha of Baghdad. See FRS, 11 June 1769: Translation of a letter from the Bashaw of Babylow to the Grand Visier, dated Bussora 7th July 1768. Still in 1792 a branch of the family lived in Jiddah and two of its members came to Surat in order to get their share of the inheritance left by Salah Chellabi. See FRS, 22 September 1792.

32 Public, 3 January 1764: Translation of a letter from Salah Chellabi.

33 The stipend had been of Rs. 100.000 per year during the reign of Muhammad Shah (1720-48) who, each year, used to send an order from Court to that purpose. Later the stipend had been reduced to Rs. 50.000 and, when Ali Nawaz Khan had been in power in Surat, namely in the 1750s, no stipend at all had been paid. In sum, the payment of the stipend was subordinate to the orders from the Court of Delhi and these had not been given for quite some years. Of course, the Sharif could claim his stipend as a form of payment sanctioned by custom. From the contest of Draper's account, one gets the impression that the Surat merchants and ship owners used to pay some money in lieu of the (by then discontinued) stipend.

34 For that we should have the Sharifian government's official records or the Pasha and/or the Sharif's private papers, which I much doubt are still in existence.

35 According to Draper, the Pasha always behaved as a true gentleman and even turned down Draper's offer of a baksheesh. All he requested for his efforts was that Draper, once back in Bombay, would send him “a watch, and two clocks, the latter to strike as often as possible”. In fact, in his account to the Bombay Government, a grateful Draper asked his superiors to honour his promise, considering the manifold assistance offered by the Pasha. Unfortunately, I do not know if the Bombay Government complied with Draper's request. It is of some interest to remember that, from the contest, this nice Turkish gentleman appears to be the same person who sent the diplomatic protest to Constantinople that in due course, as we see below, exposed the monopoly business to the Court of Directors.

36 This possibility was hinted at by Draper himself in his account. See Letter from Daniel Draper of 30 September 1762 for the quotations.

37 Public, 5 October 1762: Consultation.

38 Of course, this is only a suspicion, which cannot be substantiated through the surviving sources. However, the only alternative explanation for the lack of curiosity about the disappearance of the Surat trade to the Gulfs shown by the members of the Bombay Government is to argue that, although all of them involved in trade, they were so inept in their mercantile dealings not to be interested in such an important trade route as that relating the Gulfs to the West Coast of India. I find this hypothesis rather hard to accept.

39 IOR, E/4/463: Bombay general letter to the Court of Directors, dated 17 November 1762, received on the 27 April 1763, § 10. See also § 11, on the origins of the Sherif's tanka.

40 FRS, 10 June 1796: Extract from the Hon'ble Company's commands dated the 6th of April 1763, and received the 5th of January 1764 per ship Speaker, § 61.

41 Salim and Hadji Mahomet Baghdadi were among the Surat merchants plying on the route to the Gulfs before the imposition of the monopoly. As it is clear from their surname, they hailed from Iraq. See FRS (EC), 28 February 1764 (Letter to Bombay).

42 Public, 3 January 1764.

43 In his answer, Thomas Hodges waxed eloquent about the ship Crescent who, in the years before, had gone to the Gulfs and shown herself to be much faster than the vessels owned by the Surat merchants. FRS (EC), 28 February 1764. Writing in 1796 on the question of the «monopoly», Chief Daniel Seton noticed that “the then Chief, Mr. Hodges, was the owner of several ships, one in particular named the Crescent. . .” FRS, 1 July 1796 (Chief's minute relative to the Gulph freight, § 3).

44 FRS (EC), 28 February 1764. According to the then prevailing customs, a wreaked ship and all its contents became the properties of the rulers of the land in front of which the wreckage had occurred.

45 Forty-seven signatures appear to be those of Muslims. The balance is made up by 8 Hindu, 3 Armenian and a Portuguese name. FRS (EC), 28 February 1764 (Letter to Bombay). This letter and the enclosed certificate appear in FRS, 11 June 1796, as well. Yet, in the version inserted in the 1796 volume, the list of the signatories to the certificate is imperfect.

46 See FRS 21, 22, 25, 26 December 1759.

47 Although focussed on a somewhat different theme, what has just been said is substantiated in the study of a series of petitions by the Surat merchants, included in Torri Michelguglielmo, “Ethnicity and trade in Surat during the dual government era: 1759-1800”, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 27, 4, 1990, pp. 377404.

48 As explained in the next section, things changed in the following years, when the principal Surat shipping merchants were co-opted in the monopoly system.

49 FRS, 11 June 1795: Extract from the minute of [the Bombay] Council under the 7th October 1769: Item 1 of Hodges's regulations, where Hodges, in officially establishing the shares accruing to the Bombay Governor, the Surat Chief and the Basra Agent unambiguously states that they are the same “as heretofore”.

50 Ibid.

51 In 1766, the Bombay Government, following accusations of misconduct by some Councillors, removed Hodges from his position as Chief of Surat and suspended him from his membership in the Company. However, in the same year, direct orders from the Directors propelled Hodges the position of Governor of the Bombay Presidency.

52 FRS, 1 July 1796: Chief's minute relative to the Gulph freights, § 3.

53 See Public, 20, 22, 30 May and 16, 17 August 1765, from which it can be gathered that, that year, several Surat ships belonging to different Indian merchants went to the Gulfs. Three of them, all belonging to Saleh Chellabi, lost their passage. Two others, the Indian Queen and the Fattee Eloy completed their trip. The former belonged to Dadabhai Manockji and his partner Eddul Dada, two Parsi merchant princes. See Mayor's Court, 6 February 1775: Elizabeth Price contra Dadabhoi Monackjee and Edduljee Dada. The latter to Danjishaw Manjishaw. See Public, 17 May 1772. In 1766, one of Saleh Chellabi's ships successfully completed her voyage to Basra. See Public, 4 September 1766. I want to stress here that the information available in the English records, related to shipping, are far from exhaustive. For all we know, the ships going to the Gulfs could have been much more numerous. Anyway, the data that we have are sufficient to make the case that, with the 1765 season, the Surat merchants could send their ships to the Gulfs once again.

54 FRS, 1 July 1796: Chief's minute cit., and Mayor's Court, 4 March 1773: Daniel Draper and the trustees in India of the late Thomas Hodges contra Mulna Fakarooddeen.

55 Still on the eve of the British expedition of 1759, Mancherji appears a very active participant in the trade to the Gulfs. See, e.g., FRS, 13 April 1757, and 24 March 1758. But, after 1759, there is no indication connecting him to that line of business. This happened in spite of the fact that Mancherji continued to be an influential merchant, whose ships travelled wide and far in the Indian Ocean and beyond, going as far as China. On Mancherji continuing relevance as a merchant see Nadri, “Commercial World of Mancherji Khurshedji and the Dutch East India Company”, pp. 315-342 (particularly p. 349, and fn. 85, on his trade to China).

56 On the role played by Mancherji against the English during the 1750s, see Torri, «Mughal Nobles», pp. 263-264, 272, 306-308.

57 This comes out from the testimonies given in the first trial against Mulla Fakaruddin. See Mayor's Court, 4 March 1773: Daniel Draper and the trustees of the late Thomas Hodges contra Mulna Fakarooddeen.

58 Ibid. and Public, 18 September 1770: Statement signed by Mulna Fackorudeen and many other principal merchants at Surat, passim.

59 Public, 18 September 1770: Statement cit., item 6th and comment by the Bombay Government. Of course, this was a rash decision, which was bound to provoke some kind of reaction on the part of such an influential man as Salah Chellabi, then the head of the clan. On the Chellabis see fns. 29, 30, 31.

60 FRS, 11 June 1796: To Henry Moore Esq., Agent of Bussora, the remonstrance and petition of the Bussora Merchants trading to Surat, dated Bussora, the 1st December 1768.

61 As can be inferred from FRS, 11 June 1796: Translation of a letter from the Bashaw of Babylow to the Grand Vizier, dated Bussora 7th July 1768.

62 IOR, E/4/998: General Letter dated 31 March 1769, § 48.

63 FRS, 11 June 1796: Translation of a letter from the Bashaw of Babylow . . . dated Bussora 7th July 1768.

64 Ibid .

65 FRS, 11 June 1796: Extract of an address from the Agent and Council at Bussora to the Hon'ble the Court of Directors, dated 24th October 1768. IOR, E/4/998, General letter of 31 March 1769. The relevant parts are available also in FRS, 11 June 1796: Extract from the Hon'ble Company's Commands. . .

66 According to the aggrieved merchants, Price, in preventing them from sending their wares, claimed to be acting following the orders of the Governor of Bombay, who, at the time, happened to be Hodges. FRS, 11 June 1796: . . .the remonstrance and petition of the Bussora merchants cit.

67 FRS 11 June 1796: . . .the remonstrance and petition cit. and Extract of an address from . . . Bussora cit.

68 Why did Price behave in the ultimately self-defeating way in which he did? An in-depth examination of the British records not only does not give any final answer to this question, but raises more problems than it solves. In fact, the hypothesis can be made that, when he became Chief of Surat in 1766, Price – who, though a substantial merchant, died insolvent (see Public, 8 October 1777, Letter from several of the senior merchants of the Presidency) – was, already in such a difficult economic situation that he risked everything in order to maximise his chances to earn as much as possible. Accordingly he cheated his two British partners, namely Hodges and the Agent in Basra, while, at the same time, shunting off from the Middle East market such dangerous competitors as the Chellabis. This explanation, however, is satisfactory up to a point: however rash Price was, the fact that he could hope to escape detection on the part of Hodges defies comprehension. But even stranger is that Price's action in delaying the official freight ships did indeed escape Hodges's detection, or, at least, that is what evidenced from the British records. In fact, according to the British documents, Hodges seems to have become aware of Price's actions only following the merchants’ petition to the Agent of Basra. What makes all this decidedly strange is that the contacts between Bombay and Surat were frequent and, no doubt, a Bombay Governor had sufficient sources to know what was happening in Surat, particularly if his own private interest was involved. If all this is correct, the hypothesis must be made that Price did act with Hodges's full consent. But the reason why Hodges either decided that Price detained the official freight ships or allowed Price to do so remains an open question, which, given the limitations of our sources, cannot be answered.

69 FRS, 11 June 1796: Extract of a letter from the Governor and Council of Bombay to the Agent and Council of Bussora, dated the 27th April 1769.

70 It is significant of the intimate connection between Hodges and Price that, once the latter was removed from the Surat chiefship and the Company service (see below), he remained in Surat in charge of recovering the money due to Hodges because of his share in that season voyages to the Gulfs. See Price's testimony in Mayor Court, 4 March 1773: Daniel Draper and the trustees in India of the late Thomas Hodges contra Mulna Fakarooddeen.

71 Public 29 August 1769.

72 IOR, E\4\998: Court of Directors' letter to Bombay, 4 April 1769, § 127.

73 Public, 7 October 1769.

74 As detailed above regarding ships bound for the Red Sea, two thirds of the earnings accruing from the monopoly went to the Governor of Bombay and one third to the Chief of Surat, whereas on ships bound for the Gulf of Persia, if the Agent had the rank of member of the Bombay Government, the gains were split into three equal parts, but if the Agent was not a member of the Bombay Government profits were shared as with the Red Sea trade.

75 FRS, 11 June 1796: Extract from the minutes of [the Bombay] Council under the 7th October 1769.

76 General letter of 31 March 1769 cit., § 49. Of course, as the Governor of Bombay was involved in the monopoly business, an envoy from Bombay was no guarantee of a serious inquiry being made in Surat on that problem. Given that the least that the Director should have done to guarantee an honest investigation would have been to despatch a special envoy from one of the two other two Presidencies, one wonders how serious they were in their proclaimed desire to redress the Surat merchants’ grievances.

77 Public 2 February 1770: Abstracts of the Bombay customs of the 1 August 1768 to 31 July 1769.

78 The above paragraph is based on the information available in the Statement of Mulla Fakhruddin and other principal merchants cit. and William Andrew Price's testimony during the first trial against Mulla Fakhruddin cit. That the Dadabhoi belonged to Danjishaw and was navigated under an English captain can be seen in Public, 30 September 1774.

79 Public, 18 September 1770: address from the Merchants at Surat cit.

80 Ibid .

81 IOR: G/36/119 (Information respecting Surat communicated by Mr. —— 1775, pp. 119-122. From internal evidence, it seems that this anonymous report was written – following the directions of a person who, very possibly, was one of the Directors – by somebody who had been a member of the Surat establishment in the 1760s.

82 In Surat there were three custom houses. One, the Latty, was the British custom house, where customs were paid by British merchants and by Indian merchants under ‘British protection’. The remaining two were the Phoorza and the Khooshkee, where customs were paid by all other merchants. Of course, once a merchant paid custom at one of the custom houses he was supposed to export his wares without any further ado. But this was not always the case. See Michelguglielmo Torri, “Social Groups and the Redistribution of Commercial Wealth”, pp. 57-86.

83 Public 18 September 1770: address from the merchants at Surat cit., item 11.

84 On Mulla Fakruddin, a Bohra and one on the last Surat merchant prices, see Torri, “In the Deep Blue Sea”, p. 275, and Nadri Ghulam A.The Maritime Merchants of Surat: A long Term Perspective”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 50, 2/3, 2007, pp. 244245 . However both appraisals are only introductory, and neither takes into account such an important source as the Mayor Courts’ Proceedings, where much valuable information on the Bohra merchant prince can be gathered.

85 Public, 29 October 1778, and the section Tahar Chellabi's gamble, in the present paper.

86 Public, 18 September 1770, passim.

87 Information cit., pp. 121-122.

88 Court of Directors' letter to Bombay, 25 April 1771, § 50.

89 Public. 31 October 1771, for his appointment. He took charge in Surat on 11 November 1771, see FRS, same date.

90 All the information related to this trial are in Mayor's Court, 4 March 1773: Daniel Draper and the trustees in India of the late Thomas Hodges contra Mulna Fakarooddeen.

91 Then, the case ended there, even because, as noted above, Hodges was unexpectedly propelled from his unhappy situation to that of Governor of Bombay by a direct order from the Court of Directors.

92 Mayor's Court, 28 October 1773. Whereas the first trial, which had ended with Mulla's acquittal, took some three years, only a few months were necessary to reverse that decision. By then Draper had taken upon himself the task to destroy the Bohra merchant prince by making use of trumped up charges pushed through the compliant Bombay Courts. He did it rather effectively and, in the following years, played a not inconspicuous role in bringing about Mulla Fakhruddin's economic ruin.

93 FRS, 11 June 1796: Extract from the Hon'ble Company's commands dated 12 April 1775, § 78, item 1.

94 Significantly enough, this rule was enunciated in reference to a possible role of the Bombay Governor and the Surat Chief as owners of the freight ships. Clearly, the Directors assumed that in all other cases the owners of the freight ships did not have the political clout to be able to bend the prevailing customs according to their own interests.

95 Extract from the Hon'ble Company's commands dated 12 April 1775, § 78, items 1-6 (capital letters as in the original).

96 Ibid., § 79

97 Ibid., § 78, item 3.

98 FRS, 1 July 1796: Chief's minute relative to the Gulph freight, § 10. Andrew Ramsay was Chief of Surat from the 11 December 1785 to the 2 April 1787.

99 FRS, 1 July 1796: The Chief's minute cit., § 12.

100 This is based on the documentation in Mayor's Court, 4 March 1773: Daniel Draper and the trustees in India of the late Thomas Hodges contra Mulna Fakarooddeen, in particular Danjishaw's testimony.

101 HMs 438: Information by William Ewer, dated Surat 12 February 1797, § 49 (emphasis added). I take this to mean that the freight merchants could not set the price as they wanted, but had to take into account the amount of money that the Chief expected to earn from the whole transaction.

102 FRS, 1 July 1796: Chief's minute relative to the Gulph freight, §§ 9 to 14.

103 Ibid., §§ 12, 13 and the heading «shipping» in the FRS, from 1786 – when it first appears – onwards.

104 Ibid., § 15, where Seton quotes a petition from the merchants, complaining that, that year, because of the threat of French privateers, «the assurers and respondetiers [sic] won't accept the risk» to assure the merchants’ Middle East-bound goods. The clue offered there is strengthened by the fact that we know that, in 1796, the Chief's earnings from respondentia were equal to Rs. 18,620 (see PR XVII, p. 10). As we know that, in the same year, the exports to the Gulfs totalled Rs. 12,70,909 (FRS, 26 December 1796: Statement of trade. . .), that would mean that the respondentia rate had plummeted to something around 1.47%. This is a too unrealistically low a rate to be accepted as correct. Clearly, the Surat Chief was not the only respondentia giver any more.

105 According to Ewer's calculation, it was 2.74%. Information by William Ewer, § 49.

106 FRS, 11 June 1796: The Chief's minute relative to the Gulph freights, § 35. In this occasion, even the old canard of the Chellabi's ship purposely run aground in the Shatt-al-Arab was duly reported.

107 Ibid ., § 31.

108 Ibid., § 36.

109 FRS, 11 June 1796: The Chief's minute cit., § 16.

110 Ibid., § 17, and FRS, 31 March 1796: Translation of a paper written in Persian and addressed to the Governor of Bombay. . . dated the 10 March 1796.

111 Ibid., §§ 35 to 37.

112 On Duncan's personality and career in the West Coast of India see Nightingale Pamela, Trade and Empire in Western India 1784-1806, (Cambridge, 1970), passim, and pp. 94-96 in particular for an illuminating discussion of his character.

113 FRS, 16 November 1796: Extract of a letter from the Government General, dated 17th October 1796, § 3.

114 Ibid.: Letter from Bombay, sigd. Jonathan Duncan, dated 11 November 1796, and Notification by Government, same date; FRS, 26 November 1796.

115 FRS, 11 July 1796: The Chief's minute . . . relative to the Gulph freights cit., passim; PR XVII, p.10 (quoting from a Letter from Surat dated 31st December 1796); see also FRS, 13 September 1797: Minute by the Chief, § 22.

116 FRS, 16 November 1796: Extract of a letter from the Government general, § 4.

117 FRS, 26 November 1796.

118 In Ewer's words, “The merchants are assembled, they are asked what they will give towards the salary of the Chief? They answer ‘nothing’, ‘that the Company may pay their own servants’”. HMs 438: Information by William Ewer, § 48.

119 On the whole question see FRS, 26, 30 November, 5, 8, 29 December 1796, 1 November 1798.

120 E.g., FRS, 18 September 1798; PR XVII: Bombay to Fort William, 6 November 1798; FRS, 24 December 1798: Letter to the Company's historiographer; FRS, 25 March 1799: Petition of the merchants trading to Mocha, Judah and Bussorah; FRS 25 March 1799. Petition of the merchants trading to Mocha, Judah and Bussorah.

121 FRS, 5 December 1798: Roca from the Nawab, received on the 3rd inst.

122 FRS, 1 and 2 November 1798. On the convoy see FRS, 30 January 1799: Extract from a letter from. . . Admiral Rainier, dated 18 January 1799.

123 FRS, 25 March 1799: Petition by the Merchants trading to Mocha, Judah [sic] and Bussorah, where it is stated that “for some years past, owing to the war between the English and French all the merchants have suffered ruinous losses and particularly in the capture of the Shâh Âlum by the French last season from which we all experienced loss and misfortune and in consequence relinquished commercial enterprise”.

124 Of course, as shown in this article, this relationship could have a fourth side, represented by those Asian powers which, up to the late 18th century and, sometimes, beyond that period, remained powerful enough to try to counterbalance the rising European powers.

125 In case of the Dutch Company, things were different, as its officials had no right to trade privately.

126 Das Gupta, “Indian Merchants in the Age of Partnership”, p. 124.

127 Ibid., pp. 124-125.

128 Ashin Das Gupta, “Gujarati Merchants and the Red Sea Trade, 100-1725, in Uma Das Gupta (ed.), The World of the Indian Ocean Merchant, pp. 369-398 (originally published in 1979).

* This article is in memory of Thomas O. Eisemon (1944-98), gentleman, scholar, friend, and the last of my intellectual gurus, who, although a specialist in a different field, read and so intelligently criticised my earlier work on Surat.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
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